About four of the afternoon, before the final rehearsal, it began to snow persistently in small flakes which dropped evenly from a leaden sky. Standing by the window, twisting the curtain-string unconsciously, with her soul out in the storm, she became conscious of excited cries of “Extra!” in the street below, and as though in accompaniment to them there came an incessant ringing of the bell at the street door.
Nora being absent on some self-appointed business of her own, the maid who had brought in the tea, and one of the very damp papers which the boys were still crying below, left the room with some abruptness to see what was demanded below and who was clamoring for admission.
Katrine, left alone, poured the tea herself, her eyes scanning the news indifferently until they rested on some heavy black lines heading the last column. Again and again she looked, hoping that the printing would stay still, would stop seeming to dance up and down between the floor and ceiling—stop long enough for her to get its dreadful import:
=REPORTED ASSIGNMENT OF FRANCIS
* * * * *
=Combined Attack Made on M.S. and R. Railroad!=
* * * * *
=Mr. Ravenel Dangerously Ill at the Savoy!=
* * * * *
Dangerously ill! Dangerously ill! Dangerously ill! The words began going over and over in her brain, seeming to strike from within on her temples in a kind of hammering that she felt would set her mad. She stood helpless, her career, her work, her ambition gone from her in a divine self-forgetting and desire to help, as his gayety, his charm, “his difference” from all others came back to her. She made new excuses for his conduct. She told herself, as a mother might speak of a child, that he had been so spoiled. She remembered only the best of him—his kindness to her father, his generosity to herself.
She had long since realized the weight of Frank’s words the morning of their parting.
“And remember, that if I did not do the best, I did not do the worst; that I am going away when I might stay,” and she knew, looking back on her youth and trustfulness, how much truth there might have been in those words. She clasped her hands to her head trying to think. The throbbing in her head began to be followed by horrid sensations of things around going far away to an immeasurable distance, and returning again rapidly and horribly enlarged.
“Dangerously ill!” she repeated. “Dying, perhaps, alone in hotel rooms with none but paid attendance.”
Her throat became choked at thought of it. “Father in heaven,” she cried, her hands clasped together, “help me to help him! Don’t let him suffer!” she pleaded. “I promised to help him always. Help me to keep my promise!”
* * * * *
Outside, the controversy between the maid at the door and some other was growing louder, and a demanding, forceful, insolent voice was insisting upon seeing Katrine “immejit,” as the frightened French girl came back to the room in a panic of fear.